…Following the US invasion of Baghdad in 2003, looters sacked the Iraqi National Museum, removing a staggering array of Mesopotamian antiquities. Many of the pieces, including a priceless 5,000-year-old life-sized head of a Sumerian woman carved from marble, have disappeared only to be found on the doorsteps of private collectors, museums, and antique shops. In June, some tiny but valuable Babylonian artifacts reached the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto when a man arrived at the office of Dan Rahimi, the museum’s executive director for development, carrying what he believed to be six 3,000-year-old cylinder seals once used to roll imprints onto flat surfaces. These two-inch-long symbols of authority, carved out of marble or shaped from clay, are worth up to $100,000 (US) each.
The holder of these Iraqi treasures told Rahimi that a third party had purchased them on eBay. Rahimi, a trained archeologist who has worked extensively in the Middle East, was suspicious about the true origins of the cylinder seals, and their presence in Canada raised a troubling question: with art theft so rampant, what should prospective buyers do when the ownership of a work cannot be clearly established? The answer seems simple enough: don’t accept it. But in the world of art, where genius, money, and ego collide, morality can quickly fall by the wayside. Rahimi is always on guard against people who attempt to create a paper trail of legitimacy surrounding a disputed piece by loaning it to the rom. After carefully examining them, Rahimi determined that four were original and two were fakes. “The rom was absolutely not interested them,” he says.” —